Inspiration

By Charles Towne

Surprise!

I had been working in my cactus garden in the front yard when I decided to take a break, perhaps get a drink of water and do a little writing.  No sooner did I open the front door than all of my mental alarm bells went off.  I can imagine that between the time that the Titanic struck that infamous iceberg and the time it sank into oblivion there must have been a cacophony of alarm bells ringing, whistles whistling, and horns horning.

Oh, I’m sorry, horns don’t horn they blare. That’s what it was like in my head except for the fact that my horns were definitely horning.

What could alarm me this way you might ask, so I will tell you; the house was full of smoke and my dear sweet loving wife was sitting on the sofa staring through a pall of smoke at the T.V. just as calm as can be.  The smoke was coming from the kitchen.  Nan had attempted to fry an omelet.  The omelet was slightly burned.  No, the omelet was not slightly burned it was charred black!  No, excuse me, I misspoke, it was not charred black it was sort of cremated. You might imagine that it can’t get any worse but if that is what you imagine your imaginer is busted because it could definitely get worse, much worse. Enter the real problem shrouded in black-stage right amidst dramatic music. The real problem came when Nanny threw a towel over the skillet as it started to smoke.  Now smothering the smoking skillet was not a bad idea, but most people would most likely have turned the stove off at the same time.  I walked into the kitchen just in time to see the towel burst into flames.

This little episode is one of many in my life as my wife’s caregiver.  Nanny is really a wonder.  I never know what she is going to say or do next.  She smiles a lot, always has.  (Her mother told her the reason she smiled a lot when she was little is that she had gas!  I like to think she smiles a lot today not because she has gas but because she is happy.) She has been in the nursing home for a little more than a year now and to be honest with you I miss her being at home a lot but she is well cared for and happy most of the time and there is no danger of burned omelets where she’s at.  Well, there is always that danger but if it happens it will be the cook that is the culprit and not my wife.

One evening a friend’s mother asked Nanny if her mother was still alive.  Nanny, without missing a beat replied; “No, she was on a cruise ship, fell overboard and the sharks ate her.”  This was definitely creative on Nanny’s part and it might have been a bit of wishful thinking because at the time her mother was definitely still alive.  When dealing with a loved one suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s dementia it is wise to be prepared for the weird, the wonderful and the whacky, and to know when it is prudent to relinquish control.

Live fully,
Love openly,
And make a difference, today


Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.

24 COMMENTS

  1. What an endearing article. I worked with Alzheimer’s patients for two decades and never tired of the wacky, zany conversations we shared! Most often, these patients are a true challenge for family members. I think the most important character attribute for caregivers, is a sense of humor. Don’t you agree Charles?

  2. Well N.H., as you well know, Laughing and crying are two deeply ingrained human issues. In his little book, ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS, Dr. Norman Cousins so aptly points out that Laughter is deeply healing in every way, physically, emotionally and mentally, and I believe spiritually as well. We humans, right from the Creators hand were designed to be joyful and because we have that wild whacky and zany side deeply ingrained in each of us I believe God must have those same attributes for after all we are created in His image! I imagine that those sad individuals that rarely laugh are emotionally challenged in some way and thus never really happy. “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone” Is more than a clever saying. Blessings on you dear friend, Chaz

  3. You are blessed with the gift of being able to lovingly reflect on episodes like this and skillfully describe them in writing. Your writing allowing others who are facing such heartbreaking challenges to relate and understand that they are not alone.

  4. Dear Judith, thank you so much for your kind words. I don’t look upon it so much as a gift as a purpose and commitment, but then aren’t they the same thing for after all His word tells us that “all good things come from Him.” But then if it comes from Him it must be a gift, so therefore you are correct in saying that it is a gift! What a blessed friend He is! Blessings on you and yours dear friend, Chaz

  5. Mr. Towne, Nan must have kept you on your toes more than a dancing ballerina! Oh my gosh, she could have burnt the house down, as you worked out in your cactus garden! My mother-in-law, unfortunately, developed that condition over time, after her heart attack, that she had when she was checking her blood pressure, at one of those machines in the grocery store. As the machine tightened up on her arm, to do the test, she had the heart attack, and someone found her slumped back unconscious, and partially blue, and she was eventually flown by helicopter to emergency surgery in Orlando for a quad by pass and heart valve replacement. She survived, but gradually over time, we noticed things were not the same with her thinking. It started with losing keys. I can’t tell you how many sets of keys my husband had made and duplicated for her with lanyards to go around her neck or wrist bands. It didn’t work….things got worse, and I got a reality check into the world of the strange, and I know you understand what I mean. I had never been around anyone with that condition, and it was eye opening. My biggest mistake, not understanding her condition, was trying to reason with her when she would tell us about people setting up camp, in our back bedrooms, or in her back rooms at her house, and we would say no one is in there, and we would go check the rooms, to try to ease her mind. Oh my gosh, my mistake, arguing with her, and trying to reason things out with her….. it didn’t work, and she would get mad at me. No matter what! Like when she would tell me that I wasn’t married to her son, and that I shouldn’t be living with a man, and not married to him! I couldn’t reason that untrue little fact out with her either….. Some days she seemed completely normal, and other days, it was very apparent her thinking was delusional. When she was in a rehab hospital after her heart surgery, and told some wild tales, about the ambulance crew dumping her in a mud puddle and leaving her there for hours, or loading her in an ambulance with a drunk man, or about people from long ago that worked with her husband, coming to visit her at the rehab hospital, people that I was certain, were not around now, it was hard to sort out what was true, and what was in her mind, and I just told myself it was her medications making her mind delusional, but it wasn’t, it was the disease itself. I think her dementia was caused by her artery blockages and heart attack, which must have damaged her brain cells and heart muscle. I don’t know, I certainly am far from any kind of an expert on anything…. just my opinion…. She passed away in Feb. of this year….but she is honestly better off, and in God’s care now. My own mother was very fearful of getting that condition, and she never gave it a second thought, that is, until her aunt got that condition, and had to go to a nursing home, and my mom drove out of state to visit her, and when she came back home, she developed an intense fear of getting the disease. Whatever my mom witnessed at the nursing home with her aunt, it frightened her badly! When my mom passed away, she did not have the disease that she feared getting, and was normal to the very end. She just went to bed, to turn in for the night, turned out the light, and never woke up again.

  6. Both Nancy and yourself are so blessed to have had the good Lord put you in the others life. I have seen how much you love her through your actions and just by seeing you together at church and she is blessed to have someone that loves her unconditionally.

    Blessings to you and Nancy.
    -D.L

  7. Dear Mama Mia, I have lived everything that you describe! I am not concerned about dementia on my own part ’cause I am already nuttier than a walnut tree! As you know dear lady we have to trust Papa God and if we really trust Him He will never let us down. I guess that is what is known as the blessed hope. My mama was 95 and dad was 93 when they died in their sleep. Both of them were sharp as a tack, with great faith and much love for each other. Papa God tells us, “Fear not for I am with you and I will never leave you or forsake you…” I really appreciated reading your comment dear lady and I will be praying for you and yours. Blessings, Chaz

  8. Ah Don, unconditionally? That is really the crux of the issue with the Christian life isn’t it? Unconditional love? Love with no strings attached? I reckon that is really part of what Jesus’ character is isn’t it, and therefore that is the reason we need to pray that we will be like Him. I want to love my darling wife unconditionally so I pray for that sort of love to be evident in my life. Part of that entails forgetting wrongs, allowing the past to die and looking forward to possessing Jesus’ character. I know a lady that seems to be unable to let the past die and by living in the past she is a most miserable person. Dear Papa God, please help us to be what you want us to be. Blessings on you and yours Don. Chaz

  9. Dear, dear Chuck….you have such a way with words!! You can take something so serious, so dramatic and yet find humor in it. What a gift you have, from God himself!!
    I have been through very similar circumstances with my own mother and other family members who have suffered from dementia.
    The rest of the family learned very quickly to go along with what they said….as much as possible.
    It kept down a lot of frustration on both sides. Thank you for touching on a subject that affects so many families. It helps to know we are not alone. Others share very similar circumstances.
    Finding traces of humor along the way helps lighten the load.
    God bless you.

  10. Dear CSG, Thank you so very much. it has taken a lifetime of experience to learn to find humor in what otherwise would be dark and frustratingI guess it all DEPENDS! And when I say DEPENDS I am not referring to those briefs that conceal a lot of accidents and are the basis for a lot of potty humor. We humans can find humor in almost anything it seems, and without really trying. Take nursing home food for instance. No, YOU take nursing home food, please! See what I mean? Chaz

  11. HaHaHeHe, I can picture the whole thing. Although I can’t see you finding a whole lot of humor in it at the time. It was one Gods little practice sessions on patience. I remember my son sitting at the piano tears running down his face because he hated practicing the piano, but now that he is a man and LOVES to play the piano he thanks me for making him practice and not letting him quit. I am so glad that we have Jesus on the bench next to us as we practice life’s lessons whispering….don’t give up, you can do it, I wrote this song just for you.

  12. Thank you for the story, both interesting and humorous. It reveals why it is so important that people with this disease have caretakers! And why they eventually must go into a home with 24 hour professional care. It is very fortunate that Nancy has such a happy disposition most of the time. I have to think it makes the whole situation a bit more bearable for you.

  13. Love the colorful writing! It’s also really nice to read your readers comments about their own experiences with loved ones who have had the disease in some form or another. We really can help each other with this type of sharing. Thanks for leading the way!

  14. Dear Teen, I love the sentiment in those words, “Don’t give up, you can do it…” That is something I can picture Papa God whispering to you, me and each of us. In every area of my life I can hear His voice encouraging me, “Don’t give up my precious child, you can do it!” Isn’t He wonderful Teen? May God’s love comfort you and may His grace sustain you. Chaz

  15. Kristin, when I walk in to visit with Nanny she always smiles but she is not smiling when I leave. That to me speaks volumes. She asks, “When can I go home Charles?” And I answer, “Soon my darling, soon.” Am I lying or is it wishful thinking? Hope, never give up hope. Bearable? How can the unbearable be bearable? Only by His grace my friend, only by His grace. Chaz

  16. Nicole, Oh lady, don’t you just love words? The English language is so rich! I believe it is a shame that people don’t read any more than they do today when we have such a wealth of books. I realize that a lot of the books are trash, believe me I have read my share of them. I didn’t learn how to read until I was thirteen years old. Two teachers told my folks that I was retarded because of my inability to read My mother was enraged and encouraged me and taught me to read. My father believed those two teachers. One thing I decided that I would never be was what Shel Silverstein called a “Naysayer, and a dream slayer…” Blessings on you my friend, Chaz

  17. Chaz, so much of life is a matter of choice, at least that is what I believe. Some sad souls choose to focus on the negative, the derogatory, the ugly in life, while others are able to see the good and thus they become what they see. It is interesting how siblings can be exposed to the same environment and yet develop, through choice, totally different habits of communication and ways of seeing life. Thanks for making us think. Gordon

  18. Chuck, How I loved your story, it brought back so many memories of my mom! The disease has so many to ways to affect the patient but not all of them are terrible! Yes my mom could not be left alone lest she would try to cook something but other times she would gush about the most fantastic adventures! These could have been based on a misremembered event from her childhood,or a pure flight of fantasy! The disease allows the patient to experience a form of time travel that the rest of us find confusing to say the least! But there comes a time when the patient’s actions present a danger to themselves and others and this is when we face the most difficult decision of all, to admit that we can no longer care for our loved one alone,but that we need help! Here is where the love and understanding and strength that Papa God grants us can truly help to heal the caregiver!

  19. Richard, how I love your time travel analogy! It is so sad when the flights of fancy lead into forbidden lands where quicksand like adventures relentlessly trap and ensnare the victim’s mind and predaceous beasts of fantasy lay in wait to devour all that is familiar. Sometimes the caregiver is called upon to love the unlovable when and it is altogether too easy to forget that this really is the same person when the behavior is so strange and off the wall. Thanks so very much for the thought provoking comment, Chaz

  20. Gordon, as I read the comments left by you and my other readers I am intrigued by the depths of your thinking. Yes my friend, life is definitely a matter of choices and those choices pretty well determine our character. Thanks my friend, Chaz

  21. And I am thinking that as you remember grandma is is with a certain fondness. Why do you suppose that is? Because she was mean and always critical or because she was that happy person you remember so well? Fond memories and grandmas are created on a foundation of love, at least that is what I believe. Blessings on you George, Chaz

  22. Chuck, you have had a lot of year’s worth of care giving experience! When I look back on the years I had with Betty, I never had the problems with dementia that you have had. God has given you an extra helping of faith and endurance that is remarkable. I do hope that soon you will be able to have your Care Giving book published, as there is a need for the help it can give many people. I could have certainly benefitted from it, if it had been available. I pray for you and your lovely Nanny every day, and know that our Father God will continue to give you the strength you need!

  23. Don, as pertaining to the caregiving book, WHO CARES? I have to say, soon, very soon! As God sends people like you into my life I can’t help but have my faith and courage strengthened. i can’t tell you what you kind words mean to me. God bless you dear friend, Chaz

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